Learning Through Lyrics: Part 5

Line Five

小さな不安さえ          僕が摘み取ってあげる

Translation

If you feel a little unease      I’ll snatch it away

Vocabulary & Grammar Notes

Chiisa na

“Chiisa” is the root of this irregular adjective. Usually, we read this as “chiisai” for small. However, it is irregular because it becomes “chiisa na” when it is the last adjective (or the only adjective) directly in front of the noun. Japanese: ちいさな、小さな

When we see “chiisai,” it is actually fulfilling the role of a noun itself.

Here’s an example from my anime history: the character from Martian Successor Nadesico self-styled as “Daigouji Gai” (let’s call him just “Gai” hereafter) who berated the main character, Tenkawa Akito (“Akito” hereafter) for not saying a very mecha anime-ish line at the top of his lungs the first time. The rebuke read as follows:

Koe ga chiisai!!!” (Japanese: 「声が小さい!!」)

Your voice is small. Or too small, rather.  It’s like when a drill sergeant says to your face at maximum volume, “I can’t hear you!!” It’s the same message, just with different grammar.

So, here, “chiisai” is actually treated as a noun. What is your voice? Your voice is small. If the sentence was, “You have a small voice,” then “small” would be acting as a proper adjective. That is not the case here.

So, when “chiisai” acts as a proper adjective directly in front of a noun, as in the last example, it becomes “chiisa na”: “Chiisa na koe da.” (Japanese: 「小さな声だ。」)

That’s why it’s “chiisa na” in these lyrics.

Fuan

As we can see from the adjective preceding it – and that’s an important clue – “fuan” is a noun here. This is a compound kanji word (two kanji). Japanese: ふあん、不安)

The character 不 is a lot like “un-” in English. 安 is like “ease.” Thus, unease, as a noun.

No need to make this any more complicated.

Sae

Normally, this is a more advanced trick I wouldn’t teach to early intermediate learners (and certainly not to beginners), but here we are. Japanese: さえ

A dictionary might tell you that this means “even.” Rather, in a sentence like this, we must read it like “even if.”

To wit:

Even if (you have) a little unease,

The (you have) is unstated, but I would feel uncomfortable leaving it like “Even if there is a little unease,” because that’s impersonal and against the grain of the rest of the lyrics here.

Boku

We’ve covered this before: the introvert male’s 1st person pronoun. Japanese: ぼく、ボク、僕

Ga

Once again, this is a subject marker, as distinct from a topic. This makes the “boku” above the direct subject of the verb that follows. Japanese: が (never katakana or kanji when as a particle)

Tsukamitotte Ageru

This is a doozy: a compound verb with a continuative (-te) form followed by another verb. Japanese: つかみとってあげる、掴み取って上げる

To “tsukamu” (the first verb) is, put bluntly, to grab. It is also used for “grappling” and “capturing” (in a grapple). You would see this verb used plenty in regards to judo, professional wrestling, Olympic wrestling, and so forth. “Grasping” may also apply depending on the specific context used.

To “toru” (the second verb) is to take. Nothing complicated here.

Put “grab” and “take” together, and you get snatching, plucking or ripping off. In other words, a) grabbing on, b) pulling/ taking.

All I have done is use the most idiomatic translation possible.

To “ageru” (the third verb) is to offer up. The kanji means “up.” This is used in the sense of giving to someone else in a humble manner (i.e. you as the lower social status person in the exchange). This is the opposite of “kudasaru,” くださる・下さる, which uses the “down” kanji and is used for making humble requests to someone else so that the other person may provide you with something out of the goodness of his or her own heart.

No, really, that’s how it works. You raise others and lower yourself if you want to be polite in Japan. “Up” and “down” serve this purpose in writing the verbs down. Don’t make it complicated if you don’t have to.

So, what does it all mean here?

Here, the ageru part is essentially broadcasting that the “tsukamitoru” part (I’m showing you this without the -te, FYI) is doing the listener a favor, something given as a gift. It’s once again closing the emotional distance between the speaker and the listener. In other words, it’s written “polite” but idiomatically, it’s an intensifier that indicates closeness.

My translation added the word “away” to form the phrasal verb, “snatch away.” To me, this provides the emphasis that the original writer intended without in any way altering the full meaning: if you have a little unease, I will snatch it away.

Musings

Of course, we could substitute “if you have” for “if you feel.” It’d work. The point in not explicitly writing the verb there, aside from reducing clutter (always a big priority in Japanese), is to let the reader/ listener decide for himself or herself, and generally, to not worry too much about the words, but to feel the emotions at work.

That’s why translation/ localization needs to honor the original intent, not the wording, when push comes to shove.

J Sensei

About J Sensei

Blogger, writer, linguist, former Japanese> English translator, rusty in French, experienced in Japanese, fluent English native. Writing for Technorati.com and various blogs. Skype: jeremiah.bourque (messages always welcome). E-mail: [email protected]
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